Romney wins big in Nevada

Romney wins big in Nevada

Mitt Romney won Nevada's GOP caucuses by a wide margin Saturday, a victory that was long expected and helps further his campaign's argument that he is party's inevitable nominee. 

Romney held a big lead in early voting results, and The Associated Press and TV networks projected him to win when the last caucus locations closed.

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With 71.1 percent of precincts reporting, the former Massachusetts governor had 48 percent of the vote, well ahead of Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.) in second place with 23 percent. Rep. Ron Paul (Texas) followed with 19 percent and former Sen. Rick Santorum (Pa.) was in fourth with 11 percent. (See The Hill's live results map.)

Speaking from a campaign event in Colorado, Romney thanked Nevadans for their support before launching into a critique of President Obama.

"This is not the first time you gave me your vote of confidence, and this time I'm going to take it all the way to the White House," he said.

Romney did not mention his Republican competitors during his victory speech.

Gingrich, for his part, directed his post-caucus remarks squarely at Romney. He attacked Romney as a Massachusetts moderate, complained about attacks against himself and chalked Romney's win up to the strong Mormon presence in Nevada.

"Tonight he will do reasonably well," Gingrich said. "This is one of his best states, it is a heavily Mormon state."

Gingrich made one thing very clear: he has no intention of dropping out of the race.

"Our commitment is to seek to find a series of victories which, by the end of the Texas primary, will leave us about in parity with Gov. Romney," he said.

Romney's win caps a rough week in which the GOP frontrunner took some lumps for a verbal stumble where he said he’s “not concerned about the very poor,” as he explained that his campaign was focused on helping middle class voters who he said were hit hardest by the economy.

Nevada was long expected to be a stronghold for Romney, who won it with a pure majority of the vote in the 2008 election. No other candidates besides Paul spent much time and effort organizing for the state's caucuses, and the large Mormon population in the Silver state gave Romney a strong base of support. His momentum coming out of Florida further helped him with the win.

The strong victory after a rough week suggests two things: Romney remains the odds-on favorite to be the GOP nominee, yet parts of the Republican base are still strongly against him.

“This gives him back to back wins in two swing states, but half the party still doesn’t want him, I don’t see them rallying around him,” said David Damore, a professor at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas. “Because he was expected to do so well here it was hard for him to exceed expectations.

“He won because he’s been here the longest, he essentially never left, he’s the best organized on the ground and you need to be especially on the caucus state,” said the Las Vegas Sun’s Jon Ralston, the state’s political guru, who added that the Mormon vote was a boon to Romney. “All those things plus the momentum from winning big in Florida and all the other candidates thinking this is Romney country and not building here helped him.”

While they only make up about 6.5 percent of the total Nevada population, Mormons comprised 26 percent of the GOP caucus electorate, according to exit polls, and 91 percent of that group voted for Romney.


“This is friendly country for him,” said Damore. “He’s got all the establishment support plus the [Mormon political] apparatus and his campaign never really left from four years ago.”

Romney’s strong performance comes despite a rough few days. He handed his rivals a gift when he said on CNN that he was “not concerned about the very poor.” What he meant was that the very poor had a social safety net to help them and that the middle class needed more attention, but the sound bite quickly became hot news as his opponents both Democrats and Republicans sought to use the remark to show Romney was out of touch with middle-class voters.

The comment set off groans from Republicans and conservatives: The Weekly Standard’s John McCormack wrote that the line “may be the most idiotic thing a politician has ever said.”

The former governor initially defended the remark, then told Ralston on Thursday that he “misspoke.”

Both Gingrich and Santorum pounced on the fumble. Santorum said the it “sent a chill down my spine as a conservative and a Republican," while Gingrich said “I really believe that we should care about the very poor, unlike Gov. Romney.”

But their attacks did little to dissuade Republicans in Nevada, and Romney won handily. 

Next up is Maine’s week-long caucus, which began Saturday, and Colorado’s caucus will be held Feb. 7. 

Minnesota and Missouri will hold non-binding caucuses on the same day. Romney won Maine, Minnesota and Colorado four years ago, and Gingrich is not on the ballot in Missouri.

Jamie Klatell contributed.

This story was posted on Feb. 4 at 10:01 p.m. and has been updated.